A long mountain section of Interstate 77 near the North Carolina state line was closed as authorities investigated a massive traffic pileup and workers cleaned debris from almost 100 vehicles. The 17 chain reaction crashes occurred on a foggy Sunday afternoon, leaving three people dead and at least another 25 with injuries. Officials say that between six and eight vehicles caught fire following the fatal accident. The smoke worsened the poor visibility caused by the extensive fog, which one University of North called "most dense [he had] ever seen."
Police are unsure what initially caused the string of auto accidents, but say that high speeds combined with poor visibility were likely critical factors. "There was a vehicle or accident in front of them and they just simply couldn't stop in time," explained a police representative. According to an official with the Red Cross, the road is "notorious" for its thick fogs and is scattered with signs warning drivers to be cautious during times of poor visibility. He said the accident may have occurred due to a suddenly-occurring fog bank that caught motorists by surprise.
Roads on the mountain have seen at least six large traffic pileups since 1997, but news outlets report that the recent crash was the most deadly to date. Two other pileups in 2000 and 2010 both killed two people.
Following the crash, emergency response workers transported victims to area medical centers to be treated for wounds ranging from minor to serious. School buses shuttled uninjured motorists to shelters and hotels, as their cars were rendered unusable by the crash. Police have not released the names of the three individuals killed in the crash.
No drivers yet face criminal charges, as the police are still investigating the crash. Likewise, it is unclear whether any of the drivers involved in the accident plan on pursuing lawsuits in civil court.
Source: WCNC, "I-77 reopens following fatal 95-car pileup at Va-NC line," Diana Rugg, April 1, 2013
Secondary Source: Miami Herald, "I-77 reopens following pileup at Va-NC line," March 31, 2013